© Lars-Erik Håkansson

Failure to meet NOx and NH3 limits

Eleven EU countries breached at least one of their air pollutant emission ceilings in 2015, preliminary data from the European Environment Agency shows.

As of 2010, all EU member states are required to meet national emission limits for their total emissions of four important air pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), ammonia (NH3), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

However, final emissions data for 2010–2014 and preliminary data for 2015 shows that a number of countries consistently breached their limits for NOx, NMVOCs and NH3 in all these years.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), emissions from road transport were the main reason for exceedances of the NOx limits, while emissions from agriculture – mainly from the use of fertilisers and the handling of animal manure – were responsible for excessive NH3 emissions.

While total EU emissions of NOx have been slowly but consistently coming down since 2010, for the second consecutive year total EU emissions of NH3 increased, by 1.7 per cent from 2014 to 2015, due to higher reported emissions from the agriculture sector.

In 2015, eleven countries exceeded their national ceilings for one or more pollutants (see table). Germany was the only country that exceeded three out of the four ceilings in 2015, while Austria, Denmark, Ireland and Luxembourg exceeded two ceilings.

Several countries have persistently failed to meet their national emission limits – for example Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland and Luxembourg have now breached their NOx ceilings for six consecutive years, and Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Spain and Sweden, have all breached their NH3 ceilings for six years running (2010–2015).

The emission limits are set in the 2001 National Emission Ceilings (NEC) directive and are applicable from 2010 until 2019. Last year, a revised NEC directive was adopted that sets new national emission reduction commitments applicable in two steps, from 2020 and 2030, respectively.

The new NEC directive also introduced a so-called flexibility mechanism that allows member states under certain circumstances to ‘adjust’ downwards their reported emissions for compliance assessment with the national ceilings. This also includes retroactive adjustment of the ceilings for the 2010–2019 period. In March this year, adjustment applications were submitted by nine countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg and Spain). Following a review and possible approval of these applications by the European Commission, the number of countries deemed to exceed one or more emission ceilings in 2015 could decrease from eleven to five.

Environmental organisations have strongly criticised the lack of ambition of the new NEC directive, especially regarding the 2020 reduction commitments. The EEA analysis now shows that in 2015, the aggregated EU emissions for both NMVOCs and SO2 were already below their respective targets for 2020 (see figure). Moreover, emissions of NH3 and particulate matter (PM2.5) are already very close to their respective 2020 targets. NOx is the only pollutant for which a slightly more significant reduction (of 9%) is required by the EU as a whole in order to meet the 2020 commitment.

On top of reporting past emissions, member states must also report projected emissions for future target years, in order to assess whether or not they are on track towards meeting their reduction commitments for 2020 and 2030. According to these projections, 18 countries are not on track to meet their reduction commitments set for 2020 for one or more of the five pollutants. And 22 countries are not on track for one or more of their 2030 commitments.

Following the new NEC Directive, member states have to produce and report by April 2019 national air pollution control programmes (NAPCP) that set out the additional emission abatement measures needed to achieve their future emission reduction commitments.

Christer Ågren

Source: EAA Briefing on the NEC Directive, 3 July 2017. Link: https://www.eea.europa.eu/themes/air/national-emission-ceilings/nec-dire...
Note: More detailed emission data are published by the EEA in the report “European Union emission inventory report 1990–2015 under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP)”, EEA Report No. 9/2017, which is available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/annual-eu-emissions-inventory-report

Table.Table: EU member state progress in meeting 2010 NEC directive emission ceilings and 2020/2030 reduction commitments.Notes:‘ ✓ ‘ indicates that the emission ceiling or reduction commitment has been, or is anticipated to be, attained. ‘ ✗ ‘ indicates that the ceiling or reduction commitment has not been, or is not anticipated to be, attained. Greece did not report data in 2017. The 2020 and 2030 coulmns represent  projections calculated by member states on the basis of adopted policies and measures currently in place.

Figure: EU progress in meeting the 2010 emission ceilings and the 2020/2030 reduction commitments for the EU as a whole.

Notes: Croatia joined the EU in mid-2013; therefore, for the years 2010-2013 emissions and ceilings are not considered for this country. Greece did not report data in 2017; therefore, the aggregated EU emissions are incomplete.
The distance to ceilings was calculated based on unadjusted emissions.
For assessing future attainment with the 2020 and 2030 reduction commitments, NOx and NMVOC emissions from two main agricultural activities, manure management (3B) and agricultural soils (3D) are not considered. The magnitude of these emission sources is indicated by the top part of the NOx and NMVOC columns. Thus only the lower part of the NOx and NMVOCs columns should be considered for comparing with the 2020 and 2030 reduction commitments.


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